The Gratitude Balance

Another word about gratitude from one of staff members…


This Thanksgiving — Be Grateful But Don't Over Do It.  

Recently I was reading an article about the work of Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading researcher on happiness at University of California, Riverside. Dr Lyubomirsky's work looks at the contributing factors to an individual's happiness including gratitude.  On a day like Thanksgiving, fraught with food, family and fear, I think its important to consider gratitude and make sure we are using it to make ourselves feel better, not worse.
In her book, The How of Happiness (2008), she uses data to look at three underlying factors to happiness, including genetic set points, life circumstances and intentional actions. According to Lyubomirsky, genetic set points account for 50% of our overall joy, while life circumstances account for just 10% of the picture. The remaining 40% is malleable and highly influenced by our actions. The book offers suggestions for intentional acts that one can practice to increase their general sense of well-being; including performing acts of kindness and expressions of gratitude.  
In one study subjects were asked to keep gratitude lists either once a week or three times a week. Those in the once a week condition experienced a boost in levels of happiness while those in the three times a week condition did not. Gratitude is an important intentional practice, but we may not get the full benefits if it becomes forced and overdone.
The point is: over doing these intentional acts actually cancels out the rewards. Do not obsess over them, be mindful of their benefits and move on.
It probably seems counterintuitive to suggest that gratitude be practiced in moderation as we approach Thanksgiving. However, as an eating disorder therapist and someone who struggled with an eating disorder a decade ago, I know all to well how people can use ideas of betterment as forms of self punishment and this process can be heightened during the holidays because there is a larger disconnect  than usual between what we think we should be experiencing and what we actually are.  We approach Thanksgiving thinking…"I should be more grateful"… "I should be thinking of others" but instead our thoughts concern the coming deluge of food.  As a result, we feel worse than on other days.  
Gratitude is important.  It makes us feel good. It creates depth and richness in our experience. Gratitude does not have to be a grand sweeping feeling of joy or a forced thankfulness for all things in our lives. It can be a quiet moment of appreciation even for something small that is personally meaningful.  
Thanksgiving is  a great day to make time for expressions of gratitude but it is important that you don't turn that pressure to feel grateful into another weapon to beat yourself up with. Allow yourself to feel anxious or afraid on this day, do not expect of yourself something that is unrealistic and unhelpful (you are not a saint), but as your thoughts do drift to fear and anxiety, forgive yourself….be grateful that you read this blog post 🙂 and use a little gratitude to bring yourself back to what Thanksgiving is truly about. 
Tabitha Limotte, M.A., MFT
Lead Therapist, Eating Disorder Treatment of New York
Monte Nido & Affiliates


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